Suns Hope History Repeats Itself Saturday

Every bit of history points to an Arkansas Tech win over Harding in the semifinal round of the Gulf South Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament on Saturday.

The Golden Suns are 8-0 all-time in the semifinals of the GSC Tournament. This is the first time that Harding has even advanced to the semifinal round. Arkansas Tech is 46-2 all-time against the Lady Bisons, and Harding has never defeated Arkansas Tech in a women’s basketball game played outside the city limits of Searcy. Add in the fact that the Golden Suns already own two wins over the Lady Bisons this season, and it would be easy to believe that Tech is all but assured of clinching its ninth appearance in the GSC Tournament title game since 1998. But there is one factor this time of year that can be more powerful than history — the desperation of a great senior player trying to extend her career. The nationally sixth-ranked Golden Suns (26-2) will look to contain Harding senior forward Stacey Owens when the two sides meet at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the DeSoto Civic Center in Southaven, Miss. Russellville radio station KWKK 100.9 FM and will have live play-by-play coverage. The Lady Bisons (17-11) made it to the semifinals with a 73-66 win over North Alabama on Thursday. Owens, who is from Russellville, scored a career-high 31 points for Harding in the victory.

It was the highest single-game scoring total ever by a Lady Bison at the GSC Tournament.

Owens, a three-time All-GSC West Division selection, is one of just six Harding women’s basketball players to ever accumulate 1,000 career points and 500 career rebounds.

“One thing we’ve got to do against (Owens) is limit her touches,” said Tech head coach Dave Wilbers. “They are a tough match-up because they have a lot of 5-foot-10, 5-foot-11 players that can play inside and outside. It’s a big challenge for us defensively, regardless of whether we are in our zone or our man-to-man.” Arkansas Tech advanced to the GSC Tournament semifinals by defeating West Florida 87-64 on Thursday. The Golden Suns trailed for most of the first half, but a 7-2 run right before halftime gave them a 34-31 edge at the intermission.

Tech post players Natalia Santos and Jessica Weatherford took it from there. They combined to score the Suns’ first 18 points of the second half — 16 of which came in the paint — and Tech built a 52-43 lead with 13:08 to go.

The final dagger was a Jenny Vining 3-pointer with 8:16 remaining. Her trey made it 70-49, and it was never in doubt from there.

Santos finished with a career-high 28 points, while Weatherford scored 18 points and Vining added 11 points.

Tech leads the GSC in scoring offense, field goal percentage and 3-point field goal percentage, and that offensive juggernaut was on full display when the Suns beat Harding 95-68 in Searcy on Jan. 16.

The Golden Suns shot 58 percent from the field — including 10-of-17 (59 percent) from 3-point range — and all five starters reached double figures in scoring as Tech ran the Lady Bisons out of their own building.

It was a very different story in the second meeting. Weatherford made a layup with 9.7 seconds remaining, Harding missed two potentially game-winning shots in the final three seconds and the Golden Suns escaped with a 62-61 victory in Russellville on Feb. 13.

The big difference between the two games was turnovers. Arkansas Tech was plus-seven in turnover margin in its blowout win at Searcy; the Suns were minus-seven in turnover margin in their narrow victory at Russellville.

“We have to eliminate our turnovers,” said Wilbers. “We had some costly turnovers the last time (against Harding). Both teams know each other very well. They know our personnel, and we know theirs. It’s just about going out and making some plays.”

The winner of the Tech-Harding game will advance to the GSC Tournament championship game at noon Sunday.

The other semifinal pits eighth-ranked Delta State (24-2) against GSC East Division champion Valdosta State (19-7) at 2:45 p.m. Saturday. The VSU Lady Blazers have won 15 consecutive games, the longest active winning streak in the GSC.